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‘NCIS’ Showrunner Gary Glasberg On A Future Without Michael Weatherly – And Whether Ziva Is Really Dead

Think of NCIS‘s Tony DiNozzo and Ziva David as more of a cold case than a closed one. Though the final episode with Michael Weatherly as a cast member left Cote de Pablo’s Ziva presumed dead after her family farmhouse in Israel was blown to smithereens, it isn’t necessarily so, says Gary Glasberg, NCIS executive producer and showrunner.

“Tremendous thought was put into every element of what you saw last night,” Glasberg told Deadline in a morning-after interview, “down to the lines of dialogue, the specific wordage. At the end of the day, I leave it in the hands of our fantastic fans and audience. To quote Tony DiNozzo at the end of the episode, ‘You gotta believe what you gotta believe.’

As reported in its finale recap, the show surprised viewers with its revelation that Tony and Ziva – whose flirty relationship was never really confirmed onscreen – did indeed make (in Tony’s word) a “connection” at least once before de Pablo exited the series several seasons back. Last night’s season finale introduced little Tali, the daughter Tony never knew he had with Ziva, providing the show and the character a reason for Tony’s resignation and new life.

“Tony’s in love with this little girl,” said Glasberg, who cowrote the episode with Scott Williams. “He’s taking her back to Israel, they’re going to Paris. This is a new relationship for him, a new time for him. He needed this catalyst – it’s the only catalyst – that would drive Tony DiNozzo away from his NCIS family.”

As any follower of serial drama knows, the absence of a corpse leaves all storytelling options open. If Ziva isn’t really dead, will Weatherly and/or de Pablo ever be seen at NCIS headquarters again?

NCIS is a show and a franchise that’s known historically for leaving lots of things unanswered and leaving all doors opens,” Glasberg said. “We revisit all kinds of things in all kinds of ways. We never say never and I’m not going to stray from that kind of approach.”

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With Weatherly off to headline his own show – CBS has given a series order for Bull, starring Weatherly as a jury consultant based on  the early career of “Dr. Phil” McGraw – NCIS added Sarah Clarke and Duane Henry to the cast for the last two episodes, with an option to keep their characters (FBI agent Tess Monroe and MI6 officer Clayton Reeves) on for next season.

“Now we sort of take a breath and try to decide what’s next,” Glasberg said. “We look at (Clarke and Henry’s) terrific performances and figure out how we’re going to move forward. And I’m sure there will be tremendous conversations with the network and internally with our writers, and figure out what’s best for the show.”

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Asked whether Clarke’s irreverent Tess might fill some of the wiseacre void left by Weatherly, Glasberg said, “That’s certainly part of the design of the character and I’d like to see more of that moving forward, however this works out.

“And there was a fun and a charm to Reeves, Duane Henry’s character, as well, not to mention a tremendous physicality to his character. We certainly saw some of the action he was able to provide when he was chasing (the villain) Kort in the take-down scene of the finale.

“So I feel like all of the elements are there that we can hopefully deliver on, to test and try and hopefully find the right fit.”

Here are some other quotes from a interview with Glasberg:

On the extended Will They/Won’t They of Tony and Ziva’s relationship: “I’m a big fan of television and the history of television, and whether you’re studying Moonlighting or Northern Exposure or any number of shows that were about unrequited love, the tease is always much stronger than the connection itself. Better to stretch that out and keep it going as long as possible.”

On NCIS without Tony DiNozzo:NCIS as a show, as a franchise, doesn’t change. The humor is still there, the pathos is still there, the human mystery, the fun in the storytelling. At the end of the day we move forward, look ahead, find new characters, new dynamics, new interplay in the way this family functions. The tone won’t change.

“I still have Mark Harmon, and the family is still in place. We’re actually excited as writers to have some new perspectives, to have some new characters come in, to be able switch it up and change things 14 seasons into a television show. It’s fun for us. And to know that the foundation doesn’t change but the opportunities continue to grow and are limitless, that’s fun for us.”

On NCIS without Michael Weatherly: “Michael is and was a huge part of our family behind the scenes but everybody wishes him well with this huge opportunity he has. And we welcome some new people and the great guests that we’ll continue to have. We’ll show up for work come July and start all over again.”

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